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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Shtyrov Takes Lead in Sakha Runoff

Siberian voters, offered the chance to win a car or TV if they went to the polls, turned out en masse Sunday to bring an end to a scandal-plagued contest for control of the huge, diamond-rich Sakha region.

The Central Election Commission declared the runoff valid after turnout surged to more than 70 percent, well above the 50 percent minimum, thanks in part to offers of discounts on utility bills and tickets to a lottery for voters.

By 7:40 p.m. Sunday, with more than 86 percent of the ballots counted, Kremlin-backed Vyacheslav Shtyrov looked on course for an expected victory with 51.15 percent of the vote. Shtyrov won 45 percent in the first round of voting in December.

Businessman Fedot Tamusov -- the runner-up to Shtyrov in the first vote -- was about 9 percent behind, Interfax reported.

Results will be available Monday.

First-round elections for regional leadership in the two southern provinces of Kabardino-Balkaria and Adygeya were also held Sunday. But eyes were on the Sakha poll.

Vremya Novostei called it "the most scandalous vote in the history of regional elections" after court cases, press smear campaigns and accusations that the Kremlin had pushed out incumbent Mikhail Nikolayev in favor of Alrosa diamond company head Shtyrov.

But that was only after two-term incumbent Nikolayev was hounded out of the race by criticism from officials in Moscow, including the head of the Central Election Commission.

The final blow was delivered by President Vladimir Putin himself, who summoned both Nikolayev and Shtyrov to the Kremlin to give an award to Shtyrov. Nikolayev promptly stepped down and told his supporters to back Shtyrov.

To prevent low turnout from spoiling the runoff, voters were offered tickets to a lottery with a 1 million ruble ($33,000) prize fund including a car, washing machines, televisions and stereos despite a criminal case launched against organizers of a similar lottery for the first round, Vremya Novostei reported.

Voters were also offered vouchers for discounts on utility bills and chances to buy cheap cooking oil, chicken and condensed milk.